6000 steps to improving arthritis

Signposts are ignored at your peril. If you want to get to Inverness then ignoring the signs pointing to Inverness and following those that direct you to Slovenly-on-Mould will inevitably to lead to two things; you’ll find yourself in Slovenly-on-Mould and there will be tears before bedtime. Equally, if you disregard signs that proclaim “Danger” you might soon find yourself driving through an infested peat bog (which is no good unless you are lifelong “infested peat bog” fancier). The need to adhere to signs does not only apply to the road of course. The wary traveller will also look for tell-tale signs like bulging forehead arteries on their partner as indicators of emotional turmoil ahead. Your body too is full of signs pointing you toward your health and wellbeing, although on occasions you do need to mistrust those signs, and it seems the pain of osteoarthritis may be an exception to the sign rule. Where generally pain is a sign from the body to rest the affected part in the case of osteoarthritis new research suggests this may not be the case.

Osteoarthritis is a very common form of arthritis that involves the bones, muscle, and cartilage around a joint. It results from wear and tear and so it typically occurs after age 40 in joints like knees, hips, and fingers. Essentially what happens in osteoarthritis is that the cartilage becomes brittle and breaks down. Some pieces of cartilage may even break away and float around inside the synovial fluid within the joint. Breakdown of cartilage can lead to inflammation in the joint. Eventually, the cartilage breaks down so much that it no longer cushions the two bones and the symptoms of pain, stiffness and muscle weakness result. Arthritis can tend to discourage use of the affected joint so if it is a hip or knee that is afflicted then research tells us that people will tend to walk less. On one level that seems a sensible option but the new research shows it is actually the wrong thing to do.

The new study involved 1788 people who either had knee osteoarthritis or who were at risk for osteoarthritis based on knee scans. Over the course of a week these people used a pedometer to measure how many steps they took a day. Then two years later the subjects were revisited and tested to see what degree of limitation they had developed in the meantime and to what degree their walking was restricted. This was done using a scale called the Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Arthritis Index.

It emerged that for every 1,000 extra steps a person walked daily there was a 16 to 18 per cent reduction in their functional limitation after two years. Analysis of the data also found that 6,000 steps daily seemed to be the threshold below which people tended to develop limitations in their movement.

In the case of arthritis then it might be the one time when you should ignore the signs and not listen to your body because although there may be pain, continuing to use an arthritic knee will actually make it better.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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